County Legislator Wayne Wink covered a wide range of issues at the League of Woman Voters Port Washington-Manhasset annual meeting. He is pictured here with Rita Tanski (left), LWV program chair and Jane Thomas, president.
County Legislator Wayne Wink was the featured speaker at the League of Women Voters Port Washington-Manhasset (LWV) annual meeting. Prior to Wink's arrival, the meeting broke into small groups to generate issues of concern to the LWV members, most of which he addressed during his presentation.
Wink began by commenting on the closing days of the state legislature, which he described as "chaotic." He pointed out that many of the matters that the county legislature wants to move on require action: from the state legislature, for example, raising revenues.
One of the issues before the state legislature, Wink said, would grant the county permission to install red light cameras on county roads. Wink is in favor of this measure, saying, "It will save lives." He commented, "It is important to make people more aware of the world outside the four doors of their car." Another issue still on the agenda would establish uniform filing fees for mortgages and the like. Often, Wink said, legislation gets stalled in what he called "the great divide" between the Assembly and the state Senate. Often each body will pass different versions of the same legislation, and often they are not resolved.
On a positive note, Wink pointed out that this year the county legislature passed the budget for Nassau Community College on time, as contrasted with last year, when, Wink said, "We did this in the final moments before the college was to open." He said that the college has a $200 million budget, adding "I and some of my colleagues want to ensure that the college stays afloat."
A major issue of concern to residents of Long Island is the question of tax assessment. Wink said, "The most vexing, complex, confusing and otherwise stupefying aspect of my job is to explain the reassessment in Nassau County." He said that Nassau is one of only two counties in the state that do the assessment on a countywide basis. He added that we are the second largest assessing unit in the state; the largest, of course, is New York City. Wink said that this has a large impact on the fiscal integrity of Nassau County. Nassau County, he explained, is responsible for repayment of all the certiorari claims, even though only a small portion of the taxes actually go to the county. The majority of the tax goes to the school district. "This," he said, "is one of the side effects of countywide assessment."
In an effort to reform the assessment process, Wink said that he has introduced a bill which he described as the first step to make the commissioner of assessment an appointed position, not an elected position. Further, he would eliminate the board of assessors. Wink said, "If this position is held by a qualified assessment professional, we do not need to surround that person with a board." Wink has called for a referendum on this issue in November. Wink said, "It is important to shield that individual [the assessor] from the political process as much as possible." He also called for speeding up the process of resolving assessment appeals. Right now, he said, only about one-third of the appeals are resolved by the end of the calendar year. He reminded the listeners that there is not a direct connection between the amount of assessment and the amount of taxes paid. The assessment determines the apportionment of the total taxes, not the amount - that is determined by the budgeting process. Wink summed up his position by saying, "We have to restore confidence in the system." In response to a question as to whether the re-assessment process made taxes more level, Wink said that countywide there is a greater fairness.
On the consolidation of special districts, Wink spoke in favor of what he called "right-sizing" government; that is, providing services at the level that is most appropriate. He pointed out that he was on "both ends" of the transfer of the consolidation of Bar Beach and Hempstead Harbor Parks, first as a town council member, then as a county legislator. He gave this as an example of "right-sizing," pointing out that as far back as when Mario Cuomo was governor, Cuomo pointed out the absurdity of separating the two parks (Bar Beach and Hempstead Harbor). With respect to the garbage district, Wink pointed out that Port Washington is the most economical in the county. On the other hand, he pointed out that the county is very good at maintaining sewers. He said that, in general, when it comes to basic services like roads, garbage and so forth the local government is most effective.
In response to a question about the proposed cap on school taxes, Wink said, "I think that it is too simple. The 'circuit breaker' is only effective if the state will take up the slack, and I am not at all confident that they will do that."
Another issue of concern was the question of a single voting day for special districts, libraries, schools and so forth. Wink is in favor of this, but would not have these special elections on the same day as the general election. He said, "We need to get uniform and this is a great way to do it." One obstacle to this is that different districts may have different fiscal years.
Wink has been working with the LWV on the introduction of the new optical scanning voting machines. He was concerned about whether they will work properly (there have been some recent problems with them), and added that the inspectors need to get proper training on the new machines.
Wink agreed with the LWV's effort to get the younger voters involved in the process. He pointed out the younger individuals register and vote at a lower rate than older adults. He said, "They need to understand that they have to be invested. We really need to address this as a society." He agreed that holding registration in the schools was a good first step.
Questions that were not answered from the floor due to time limitations were turned over to Legislator Wink for response from his office.
At the business meeting that preceded Wink's presentation, last year's activities were reviewed, and priorities set for the upcoming year. The budget was approved, and the following officers were elected: President Jane Thomas; First Vice president Joanne McLaughlin; Second Vice president and co-chair of "Lunch with the LWV" Amy Bass, Secretary Marie Bellon, and Treasurer Julie Harnick (all incumbents except Harnick).
(Editor's note: A few days after the presentation, the state legislature recessed. The Port News learned that the red light bill died in committee. The cap on property taxes was described by one observer as "dead on arrival," and essentially took no action on consolidation of special districts.)